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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Najib: Priority of Packaging Over Performance

Priority of Packaging Over Performance
Najib Razak’s First One Hundred Days

M. Bakri Musa


Malaysiakini.com July 14, 2009

I would have expected that the successor to the incompetent and do-nothing Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has minimal difficulty shining as the bar had been lowered substantially. Yet despite that, Prime Minister Najib Razak has failed to impress us in his first 100 days. His priority is packaging over performance.

Najib may be more poised, his voice less grating, and he stays awake in meetings (Tun Mahathir gave him top marks for that!), but in content and performance, he is of the same bottom-league kayu belukar quality as Abdullah, and far from the sturdy meranti quality we long yearn in our leaders. Abdullah lasted slightly over five years; it took time to see through his vacuity. Now sensitized, voters are less tolerant and less forgiving of incompetence. Najib will have an even briefer tenure.

Najib’s two signature and high profile initiatives in his first 100 days are his 1Malaysia.com.my website and his micromanagement of Perak’s legislative politics. The first illustrates Najib’s slick packaging; the second, the empty content and inept performance.

Najib’s website is professionally designed and maintained. It makes full use of the new media including Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately its contents do not reflect the man. When I surf the websites of Tun Mahathir, Lim Kit Siang or Anwar Ibrahim, I know that what is written reflects the person, right down to the tone and style of writing.

I do not get that sense with 1malaysia.com. It is written as if from a third person perspective instead of being personal, the very reason for having a blog.

Of course I do not expect Najib Razak to write his own speeches; he has other important things to do like running the country. I do expect him however, to be on top of his speechwriters, and to do the final reading and make the necessary editorial changes so those speeches would truly represent and sound as if they emanated from him. He has to leave his imprint.

At the same time I expect his speech writers to be professional enough to study their subject’s favorite expressions and writing mannerisms, as well as style of speaking, so the final product would sound and look as if it had been from the man himself.

Not only is the style and tone of 1Malaysia.com divorced from Najib, so too is the content. When someone asked him what the 1Malaysia concept meant, Najib was unable to articulate it coherently. He was unable to relate his “1Malaysia” concept with his party’s pursuit for a ‘unity government,’ for example.

If his 1Malaysia website was meant to symbolize his “One Malaysia” vision, then it has failed miserably. Little wonder that his government had to launch a massive public relations exercise just to publicize his “1Malaysia” concept. Malaysians are still fuzzy about the content. I doubt very much that Najib himself understands what ‘1Malaysia’ means.

Far from being his guiding vision, Najib’s “1Malaysia” is nothing more than the slick concoction of his highly-paid pubic relations personnel. It is just another slogan, again the triumph of packaging over performance. Expect Najib’s “1Malaysia” to have the same as if not shorter shelf life than his predecessor’s Islam Hadhari.


Perak’s Mess

As for Najib’s political and leadership skills, his handling of Perak’s legislature’s politics is illustrative. There was no shortage of superlatives or praises effusive enough to describe his ‘coup’ in engineering the fall of the Pakatan government. Today, barely a few months later, Najib is desperate to distance himself from that still evolving mess. He is not in the least (or no longer) interested in trumpeting his earlier ‘triumphant’ role.

If all the Perak mess did was to soil Najib’s already mediocre reputation, I could readily overlook his central role in it. Unfortunately we are not yet even near the end of the full ramifications of that crisis.

To date the episode has exposed the ineptness of the state civil service and the Royal Malaysian Police, as well as ensnared the sultan. Commentators are now not in the least shy in criticizing the sultan, and often in very harsh and rude terms. They are also throwing the sultans’ own words uttered when he was chief justice back at him. Sultans are not used to eating their own words.

That was not all. That crisis also exposed what had been obvious to many and for so long, the thinness of talent in our political class. The sight of Speaker Sivasankar being literally dragged out of the Assembly Hall has now become and will forever remain the iconic image of the country’s political leadership.

That case (or cases, as apart from the contested Chief Minister’s post, there is the Speakership that is still to be litigated) is still winding its way through the court system. Already that series has exposed the glaring inadequacies and mediocre qualities of our judges. The exception was the initial trial judge, Justice Aziz Rahim, who had his written judgment delivered within days of his decision and whose legal arguments were the model of wisdom and scholarship.

As for the Appeals Court judges who reversed Justice Aziz Rahim’s decision, we would expect them to be a class above trial judges. Instead their written judgments when finally released weeks later, were not only tardy but did not address the pertinent issues raised by the trial judge. I would expect each of the three appellate judges to outdo each other in presenting a well reasoned and erudite judgment considering that this is not only a high profile case but one that would be cited frequently in future. It is also a case that is sure to be headed for the highest court. Obviously they were not eager and perhaps embarrassed of their judicial logic and decision.

Such are the caliber of our judges, Justice Aziz Rahim excepted. How on earth were they selected, let alone promoted? Their inadequacies would have remained hidden if not for the Perak political fiasco. At least on that count, we could thank Najib.

Elsewhere I wrote that Najib’s predecessor Abdullah Badawi served a useful function as “practice Prime Minister.” His sheer ineptness emboldened citizens to speak out and criticize him specifically and other leaders generally. Previously Malaysians, like most Asians, were a dutiful bunch, hesitant to criticize their leaders, mistaking that to be an expression of disloyalty. Abdullah Badawi, not intentionally of course, changed all that. He made Malaysians more assertive. At least on that point we could thank him.

Abdullah Badawi was our ‘practice’ Prime Minister. He gave us ample opportunities to practice developing and acquiring the courage to criticize our leaders. As we would say in the kampong, Abdullah’s role was as a main-main Prime Minister.

Abdullah was a ‘play-play’ Prime Minister; Najib serves a different function. He is our ‘sacrificial zinc anode’ Prime Minister. Boat owners are aware of the importance of the sacrificial anode. By installing that you preferentially divert the corroding effects of the sea water to that anode, thus protecting the other elements on your boat, like its props. When the anode is corroded you would simply replace it. It is much easier and considerably cheaper than having to replace your eroded props.

Najib Razak is our metaphorical sacrificial zinc anode. He attracts all that is evil, brings out all that is corrupt, and exposes all the incompetence. Then when the nation has been cleansed, its evils, corrosions and incompetence accreted upon Najib, we can dispose of him.

So far Najib has served well as our sacrificial anode. The important thing about this sacrificial anode is to know when to dispose it. Keep it too long and it would spread the corrosion to other vital parts of the boat. The next general election is as good a time to get rid of Najib Razak and the party he leads, time to dispose our national sacrificial anode.

It is sad but not inappropriate to use the sacrificial anode metaphor for Najib. Like many, I would have preferred that he be the skipper of our ship of state. However, if you do not have what it takes to be the skipper, and you do not even have the weight to be ballast, then I suppose being a sacrificial anode is still better than being dead weight.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Big bro M. BAKRI MUSA:
Thank u 4 this wonderfully written piece.
A.A.B.N., Kuala Lumpur

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"main main PM",I understand what is sacrificial anode in the kampong called ?tq.
It's just PR...what the PM is doing...

Budak kampong.

10:52 PM  
Blogger AminNR said...

Dr. Bakri,

I have nothing but the highest admiration for not only your profound and discerning observations but more so for your articulate writing style. And I can only but agree and corroborate with you.

As a Melayu tulen, and a liberal who would like to identify himself as a Malaysian, I can only dream enviously of your achievements. I am proud of you and would like you to be the role model for my son!!

A N Rashid

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You will not be welcome in Malaysia. You have taken the words out of my mouth. I have always maintained the the Malaysian economy has all the signs of a socialist economy. Government is takinging up all the resources and has no real productivity to show for it.

I hope that more people like you will write about this in the hope that government will provide the best environment for human developemnt leave its citizens alone to take care of themselves. Ramalx

5:40 AM  

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